Nested Scrolls: Rudy Rucker’s Portrait of the Artist as Natural Born Weirdo


If you’re interested in science fiction, you’ve probably bumped up against the name Rudy Rucker a few times in the course of your travels. For the last four decades, he’s been cranking out an unapologetically trippy brand of sci-fi that mixes beatnik surrealism with a highly cerebral take on topics like infinity, alternate dimensions and nanotech. At the same time as his sci-fi career, he’s also charted a course for himself as a widely respected professor of mathematics and computer science, authoring popular science books like Infinity and the Mind.

Nested Scrolls is his 2011 autobiography, a laid-back, conversation telling of his journey from “Bottom of the totem pole” student in rural Kentucky, to becoming a math whiz who shared thoughts with Godel, to Silicon Valley pioneer, to Science Fiction master.

In one of his books, 1984 Master of Time and Space, Rucker’s fictional surrogate Joe Fletcher finds himself caught in a multi dimensional, self-referential size-loop:

Although my dome light wasn’t on, the inside of my car was lit up. I glanced around to find the cause. Resting on the seat next to me there was a sort of toy car, a scale model 1956 Buick with blazing headlights. The headlights were aimed at my corduroy-clad right leg. It looks as if the toy car even had a toy driver. I put my hand on it, then drew back with a scream.

Just as my thumb touched the wrap around windshield of the model car, a giant’s hand had swooped down out of the darkness to press its hamlike thumb against my own windshield! When I withdrew my hand the giant followed suit.

Nested Scrolls works in similar way. With Rucker telling a generally chronological tale, but never hesitating to move back and forth in time or even back to the present, nesting certain stories within others and creating a generally Fractal approach to the auto-bio genre.

From the very first pages in which he recounts a beautiful little story which involves saying “I Love you” to a seagull, Rucker maintains the steady voice of a guy who doesn’t take himself to seriously, and has generally had a positive experience on his trip. It’s a soothing feeling – the literary equivalent of Something like a Vince Guaraldi album: A hint of melancholy, a Big dash of fun and a zen core that let’s us know there’s  steady hand at the controls.

At one point in the book he recounts visiting his father, who he always refers to as “Pop” on his deathbed. His father asks, “what was I so worried about?” referring to all of the stresses and problems that we run up against in life. Rucker takes this as a very profound lesson. And from the book, you can tell it’s a lesson that he’s taken to heart

Listening to the Diamond Age

I’m currently listening to Neal Stephenson’s 1995 nano-tech bildungsroman on audiobook.
The story itself is incredible – wild, dense and visionary. But what makes the audiobook such a fantastic way to absorb the book is the performance of the reader, Jennifer Wiltsie. Her range of accents and voices is flawless, from Neo-Victorian John Percival Hackworth’s stiff british accent, to the innocent small voice of our Little Hero Nell. But it’s not just the main characters who get this treatment. Every character no matter how small (and the cast is huge) gets their own voice and personality. She single handedly transforms Stephenson’s novel into an truly immersive experience.

Ginger Baker Teaches You To Play the Drums

I love to go on you tube and check out old music lesson videos from the eighties. You can find stuff from Jeff Pocaro, Bernard Purdie and the complete Metal Method videos (remember those ads from Guitar World?). Today I found an amazing video featuring Ginger Baker giving some nice straight-forward instruction on how he approaches the drums:

As a nice follow-up to that, here is an incredibly awkward interview between Ginger and Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers:

Did the Aum Shinrikyo Detonate a Nuclear Bomb in the Australian Outback?

This thread on Reddit investigates the terrifying possibility that the Japanese Doomsday Cult Aum Shinrikyo, most famous for their gas attack on the Tokyo subway system, got their hands on a nuclear bomb and set it off in the Australian outback in 1993.

Everyone agrees that something cataclysmic happened out there that year:

Late on the evening of May 28, 1993, something shattered the calm of the Australian outback and radiated shock waves outward across hundreds of miles of scrub and desert. Around the same time, truck drivers crossing the region and gold prospectors camping nearby saw the dark sky illuminated by bright flashes, and they and other people heard the distant rumble of loud explosions.*

But while many chalk up the event a meteor. Others, including the United States Government have activly investigated the possibility Aum Shinrikyo’s involvement. From the Reddit post:

-Senate investigators say the cult recruited at least two nuclear scientists in Russia.

-Notebooks later seized from Mr. Hayakawa show he wanted to buy the ultimate munition there. In one entry, he asked, ”How much is a nuclear warhead?” and listed several prices.

-Aum Shinrikyo, or Supreme Truth, turned out to have accumulated some $1 billion and to have won more than 50,000 converts in at least six countries.

-Dr. Gregory van der Vink, head of the science investigation, said in an interview. ”But the group was into biological and chemical weapons and was attempting to acquire nuclear ones. I’m still amazed.”

-At the ranch, investigators found that the sect had been mining uranium.

-Investigators discovered that the cult, Aum Shinrikyo, had tried to buy Russian nuclear warheads and had set up an advanced laboratory

-The site has a known uranium deposit.

-Documents seized from Mr. Hayakawa include some 10 pages written during his visit to Australia in April and May 1993 that refer to the whereabouts of Australian properties rich in uranium, including one reference praising the high quality of the ore.

-Seismic observatories in Australia tracked the event to a location 28.47 degrees south latitude, 121.73 degrees east longitude, a remote area near the cult’s ranch.

-People in the area saw the sky blaze, heard loud explosions and felt the ground shake, in one case knocking beer cans off a table.

-Mr. Mason noted that earthquakes were very rare in the region and that mining explosions were illegal at night. ”I currently believe that a nuke is a very real possibility but a meteorite and an earthquake cannot be ruled out either,” he wrote Senate investigators in October 1995.

-Eventually, the IRIS team calculated that the event was 170 times larger than the largest mining explosion ever recorded in the Australian region, to helping rule out that possibility. The disturbance was calculated as having the force of a small nuclear explosion.

Being Twelve

You’ll find a ton of parenting advice online. There are countless blogs, magazines and subreddits each filled with a slew of “expert” advice on how to raise your kids.

But what’s often missing from the equation is the kids themselves. Surprisingly few resources across any media focus on a child’s point of view. There is Michael Apted’s excellent UP series. And there are a some sociological and anthropological studies that looks at childhood from the perspectives of children – although these tend to focus in on specific issues such as divorce. But generally speaking, there is surprisingly little out there that can help parents to get an unmediated view of their child’s world.

WNYC has launched a new project called Being Twelve. It’s a series of first person interviews with children on the cusp of adulthood. The series is pretty NYC-centric. But most of the insight that shines through here is universal. Best of all the series really focuses on letting kids answer important questions in their own words.